1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Muttra

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MUTTRA, or Mathura, a city and district of British India in the Agra division of the United Provinces. The city is on the right bank of the Jumna, 30 m. above Agra; it is an important railway junction. Pop. (1901), 60,042. It is an ancient town, mentioned by Fa Hien as a centre of Buddhism about A.D. 400; his successor Hsüan Tsang, about 650, states that it then contained twenty Buddhist monasteries and five Brahmanical temples. Muttra has suffered more from Mahommedan plunder than most towns of northern India. It was sacked by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1017-18; about 1500 Sultan Sikandar Lodi utterly destroyed all the Hindu shrines, temples and images; and in 1636 Shah Jahan appointed a governor expressly to “stamp out idolatry.” In 1669-70 Aurangzeb visited the city and continued the work of destruction. Muttra was again captured and plundered by Ahmad Shah with 25,000 Afghan cavalry in 1756. The town still forms a great centre of Hindu devotion, and large numbers of pilgrims flock annually to the festivals. The special cult of Krishna with which the neighbourhood is associated seems to be of comparatively late date. Much of the prosperity of the town is due to the residence of a great family of seths or native bankers, who were conspicuously loyal during the Mutiny. Temples and bathing-stairs line the river bank. The majority are modern, but the mosque of Aurangzeb, on a lofty site, dates from 1669. Most of the public buildings are of white stone, handsomely carved. There are an American mission, a Roman Catholic church, a museum of antiquities, and a cantonment for a British cavalry regiment. Cotton, paper and pilgrims' charms are the chief articles of manufacture.

The District of Muttra has an area of 1445 sq. m. It consists of an irregular strip of territory lying on both sides of the Jumna. The general level is only broken at the south-western angle by low ranges of limestone hills. The eastern half consists for the most part of a rich upland plain, abundantly irrigated by wells, rivers and canals, while the western portion, though rich in mythological association and antiquarian remains, is comparatively unfavoured by nature. For eight months of the year the Jumna shrinks to the dimensions of a mere rivulet, meandering through a waste of sand. During the rains, however, it swells to a mighty stream, a mile or more in breadth. Formerly nearly the whole of Muttra consisted of pasture and woodland, but the roads constructed as relief works in 1837-1838 have thrown open many large tracts of country, and the task of reclamation has since proceeded rapidly. The population in 1901 was 763,099, showing an increase of 7% in, the decade. The principal crops are millets, pulse, cotton, wheat, barley and sugar cane. The famine of 1878 was severely felt. The eastern half of the district is watered by the Agra canal, which is navigable, and the western half by branches of the Ganges canal. A branch of the Rajputana railway, from Achnera to Hathras, crosses the district; the chord line of the East India, from Agra to Delhi, traverses it from north to south; and a new line, connecting with the Great Indian Peninsula, was opened in 1905.

The central portion of Muttra district forms one of the most sacred spots in Hindu mythology. A circuit of 84 kos around Gokul and Brindaban bears the name of the Braj-Mandal, and carries with it many associations of earliest Aryan times. Here Krishna and his brother Balarama fed their cattle upon the plain; and numerous relics of antiquity in the towns of Muttra, Gobardhan, Gokul, Mahaban and Brindaban still attest the sanctity with which this holy tract was invested. During the Buddhist period Muttra became a centre of the new faith. After the invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni the city fell into insignificance till the reign of Akbar; and thenceforward its history merges in that of the Jats of Bharatpur, until it again acquired separate individuality under Suraj Mal in the middle of the 18th century. The Bharatpur chiefs took an active part in the disturbances consequent on the declining power of the Mogul emperors, sometimes on the imperial side, and at others with the Mahrattas. The whole of Muttra passed under British rule in 1804.

See F. S. Growse, Mathura (Allahabad, 1883).